A weekly long run lasting at least 90 minutes will make you stronger, physically and mentally.
If you think of your body as an engine, then a great way to add horsepower is with a good, long run—a continuous effort ranging from 90 minutes to 3.5 hours in duration, depending on your experience and race goals.
By going long, you increase aerobic capacity by building muscle enzymes, capillaries that deliver blood to muscles, and mitochondria (which help power cells). Spending more time on your feet also strengthens the musculoskeletal system. And as even non-physiologists know, you build mental toughness by pushing your body through those times it would prefer to wave a white flag.
Long runs have served as a staple in training programs for more than a half-century. And with so many benefits, coaches recommend them even for runners who don't have a race on the calendar. For those who do, these workouts prime your body to perform optimally on race morning, so start them around the same time that your event starts. Here's a minute-by-minute guide to successfully going long.
Two Hours Before
Eat a meal that consists of .5 to 1 gram of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight, says Dayton, Ohio-based dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede: "In other words, if you're 150 pounds, aim to consume 75 to 150 grams of carbs"—300 to 600 calories. Stay light on protein, fiber, and fat, which take longer to digest and don't fuel muscles as efficiently. Consume 17 to 20 ounces of water or sports drink. "Dehydration has been clinically shown to derail performance," she says.
30 Minutes Before
This is checklist time. BodyGlide? Energy gels? Sunscreen? "But don't do too much," says Flagstaff, Arizona-based coach and nutrition consultant Alicia Shay. "You have a big effort coming, so stay relaxed." A 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier and internationally competitive runner for the Nike Trail Team, Shay uses this in-between time to attend to e-mails. Keep sipping water, but not so much that you'll have fluid sloshing in your stomach when you depart.
"The key thing with long runs is to start slowly," says San Diego, California-based coach Greg McMillan. No matter how eager you are to get rolling, rein in your pace during the early miles. McMillan recommends the talk test: "You should be able to chat away with your training partner." If you can only utter a sentence before you gasp for breath, you're going too fast. And that will spell trouble for the second half of your run, which, says McMillan, "is where all the great benefits happen."
More: 3 Rules for Easy Runs